This week, in fact in the next few days, the Senate will be voting on Helen Coonanâ€™s Media “Reform” package. This package seems to be universally unpopular with everyone – the journalists on the ground, most of the media owners, and we consumers.
One of the smaller media companies in this country is Fairfax, publishers of arguably the best newspapers in the country – the sister publications The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Whatever you may think of recent changes to these publications under their current editors – there seems to be far too many “news” pages populated mostly with large color photographs, like a flimsy daily magazine – these two publications are still the papers of record in this country.
They are the two publications which really attempt, with greater or lesser success, to tell both sides of the story. Watching an issue being thrashed out, day to day in the opinion pages will both delight and infuriate depending on which view is getting aired that day.
Compare this to some of the other major dailies, such as The Australian, which is clearly has a viewpoint, and clearly expresses it every single day in the way in approached stories and the stories it chooses to report. The Fairfax approach is both better and, unfortunately far rarer.
Now, despite reportedly increasing circulation and very successful websites – whatever you might think of the “lifestyle” content – Fairfax is a small fish, compared to Rupertâ€™s News Limited and Packerâ€™s Publishing and Broadcasting. And indeed any number of large overseas media companies.
It is a little fish which is very likely to get gobbled if the restrictions on media mergers and acquisitions are removed. As is currently before the parliament.
Now, some would argue that “ownership” does not automatically mean “editorial control” or “undue influence.” That a well-behaved, hands off proprietor will allow an organisation to have and keep its own voice.
This argument is, to put it politely, bullshit.
Every organisation tends to, over time, come to reflect the particular biases and opinions of its leaders. This is true from the local scout club all the way up to the international corporations. Look at News limited. It wouldnâ€™t be the kind of company it is if it was run by someone else. Anyone who argues that the whole place isnâ€™t infused with Rupertâ€™s DNA is also talking bullshit. A company like that is a massive externalized expression of the proprietors personality and, indirectly his opinions. Just by the decisions the guiding hand makes, the company will slowly evolve into the proprietors beast, ditto the new divisions it acquires.
There are no guarantees that the Big Fish can give about the little fish they will swallow. They can’t guarantee anything about retaining editorial independence. No matter how hands off they will attempt to be, the corporate mind set will permeate and take over.
Assuming they even attempt to be hands off. More likely will be the slashing of journalist roles, the combining of functions with other parts of the organization, and other “synergies” which will quickly sap anything unique about these newspapers.
Now, they might not be your preferred daily rag, but they should at least have your respect. And they are an endangered takeover target, for reasons that are still not clear.
So donâ€™t just sit there. The folks over at Getup have started an online campaign to lobby senators about the upcoming changes, sign on and tell them what you think.
And get the “paper dinosaurs” delivered or go pick up a copy, read them while you still can.